Rockets go 0-2 in another lost week; immediate future does not look great

James Harden might not be in uniform this week. Kevin C. Cox

The Rockets struggles continued in the second week if the NBA season, as they dropped both contests in an embarrassing fashion. Houston's problems weren't limited to the box score, as reigning MVP James Harden pulled up late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's contest with hamstring tightness. The Rockets are now 1-4, last in the Southwest Division, and 13th in the Western Conference.

Game Four: Rockets vs Utah Jazz (L, 100-89)

Houston entered its Tuesday game injury riddled and without starting point guard Chris Paul, who was serving out the second half of his two-game suspension. Harden would lead the charge as the Rockets jumped out to a 29-24 lead after one, but poor defense, a lights-out effort from Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, and an uncharacteristically bad shooting performance from guard Eric Gordon resulted in the Jazz outscoring the Rockets 28-15 in the second quarter. A sluggish pace and sloppy basketball would continue through most of the second half until Harden checked in in the fourth to key a late game run. Houston would trim the Jazz lead to within five, but a tweaked hamstring sent Harden to the locker room. With the air let out of the building, the Jazz pounced and cruised to a victory. Harden led the Rockets with 29 points, while Mitchell scorched Houston’s defense for 38.

Game Five: Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers (L, 133-113)

Friday’s contest against the Clippers looked to be the one the Rockets would be able to use to get back on track. With Chris Paul returning from suspension and Carmelo Anthony slotted into the starting rotation the Rockets started off strong defensively, but a miserable offensive effort kept the Clippers in the lead. Carmelo Anthony’s brilliant season high 24 points weren’t nearly enough to combat the Rockets’ 38% team field goal percentage, and the Clippers exploited the Houston’s thin front court to run away with the victory. Former Rocket Montrezl Harrell led the Clippers off the bench with 30 points.

Takeaways and Notes:

Eric Gordon is off to a miserable start: Through five games, Gordon is 9-39 from three and has only converted 26-80 total field goals. For a team that was missing Chris Paul and is now without Harden, the Rockets need Gordon to step up and it simply hasn’t happened. He should eventually heat back up, but this slump couldn’t come at a worse time.

Reinforcements are on their way: Forward Marquese Chriss and Zhou Qi are expected back at practice early this week. Monday’s practice will be used to determine whether or not they’re ready to be reintegrated into the rotation in time for Tuesday’s contest against Portland. Harden should be back later in the week as well, but I expect the Rockets to exercise extreme caution with the face of the franchise.

Halloween might be eventful: If a Jimmy Butler trade happens anytime soon, there’s a good chance it could happen on Wednesday. The prevailing thought process is because the Rockets would be able to add recent trade acquisitions Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss to any trade package at that point.

Looking ahead

The Rockets host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday before heading out on the road against the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls on Friday and Saturday. With the current state of the Rockets as it is and Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard leading the league with 33.8 points per game, it’s very hard to envision anything other than another blowout Tuesday. Brooklyn could be where the Rockets stop the bleeding and notch their second win, while Chicago looks like a toss up. Until the Rocket prove that the can stop their opponents from scoring in the interior, I just don’t see sunny days in the near future. I predict a 1-2 week.


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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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